What are you feeding your pets? Grain-free food linked to heart failure in dogs

Certain brands of pet food have been linked to a heightened risk of heart failure in dogs, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

In some dogs with a grain free diet, veterinarians are seeing hearts so enlarged that they can no longer pump. This causes problems such as fluid in the lungs, which is what happened to Bailey, who died just weeks after getting diagnosed.

“It’s just too soon to lose a pet over dog food,” said Gina Perry, who is still mourning over the death of her six-year-old dog.

Perry got Bailey when she was just eight-weeks-old.

“She was a German Shorthaired Pointer, really, really active, loved to swim, run, go on hikes,” Perry said.

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Bailey suddenly got lethargic in May and started coughing after eating grain free foods for two years.

“They did an X-ray and saw that her heart was really enlarged,” Perry said.

The diagnosis, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), linked to grain free food, is something Dr. Jacqueline Horner is now watching out for at Pharr Road Animal Hospital in Atlanta.

“If you think about body builders, they build a lot of muscle and at some point they lose range of motion,” Horner said. “If your muscles get very big they may not be so flexible. They may not have that full range of motion in their arm. The heart is the same way.”

Researchers say there is no direct cause, but there is a correlation.

“Meaning that we are seeing an increased number of pets with DCM dilated cardiomyopathy and those pets are also eating grain free foods,” Horner said.

It’s affecting so many pets that it prompted the FDA to start tracking it.

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Since 2014, the feds say vets diagnosed 560 dogs with DCM and of those 119 died. 

Perry made sure to fill out the FDA forms.

“I want to get the word out to just save other people and other families from going through what we went through,” Perry said.

A lot of people went grain free after dogs started dying from tainted wheat gluten from China in 2007. Others did it when they changed their own diets and cut out gluten.

“And it’s important to note that this trend did not originate from veterinarians’ recommendation,” Horner said.

Instead, vets say it’s boutique brands selling the idea through ads.

Antoinette Zavala says that’s why she started feeding her dog Storm grain free foods.

“Cause I guess I thought they shouldn’t eat grain because of things that I read,” Zavala said.

Bailey’s mom went for grain free because she too thought it was better.

“It looked better. And I thought it would be healthier for my dog,” Perry said.

Vets say looks are deceiving.  Their advice is to stick to bigger, traditional brands, with more regulations and stop feeding grain free.

“We’re recommending that number one avoid using grain free foods,” Horner said.

“You just feel guilty. They don’t have a choice so it’s really kind of on you that you did that,” Perry said.

If you’re feeding your dog grain free food, don’t stop cold turkey. Vets say it should be a slow process, taking at least a week or so.    

Your best bet is to check with your pet’s doctor.   

This affects cats too. The FDA says five cats have died from DCM linked to grain free food.

You can read the FDA’s list of pet food brands linked to DCM by clicking here.